Dodgers call audible by selecting former Clemson QB on Day 3

Oregon State right-hander DJ Uiagalelei among final picks for Los Angeles in MLB Draft

July 12th, 2023

Call it a Hail Mary.

With their final pick of the 2023 MLB Draft, the Dodgers went with Oregon State right-hander DJ Uiagalelei in Round 20. The only thing is that Uiagalelei, taken 610th overall, hasn’t played baseball since high school.

Instead, he’s better known for having spent the 2020-22 seasons as a quarterback at Clemson before entering the transfer portal in December.

A Southern California native and lifelong Dodger fan, Uiagalelei played varsity baseball at St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, touching as high as 95 mph with his fastball. It was there that Dodgers scouts first observed Uiagalelei in action.

“Honestly, he could have been a top-couple-round guy if he stuck with baseball,” Dodgers area scouting supervisor Jonah Rosenthal said. “But he became a five-star quarterback, and coming to Clemson, when you have that status, I mean, you obviously run with the football.”

Indeed, Uiagalelei decided to focus exclusively on football in college -- at least formally. He continued to indulge his love for the national pastime by spending a lot of time around Clemson’s baseball team, and even taking batting practice with them.

Uiagalelei made the move to OSU after a down junior season at Clemson that ended with him being benched in the ACC Championship Game. The 22-year-old has two years of NCAA eligibility remaining.

Throughout it all, the Dodgers kept in touch with Uiagalelei, who slowly warmed to the idea of resurrecting the baseball route as a backup plan.

Uiagalelei reacted to the news on his Instagram story by quoting the song “Dodger Blue” by Brownside.

Los Angeles is most intrigued by Uiagalelei’s arm speed and arm strength, both of which he continues to keep sharp in his career as a quarterback. But at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, his overall athleticism stands out as well.

When the Dodgers envision his future in baseball, it’s more likely as a pitcher, although they don’t want to box him into any one role.

“With this guy, this type of athlete, this type of human being, I would never count anything out,” Rosenthal said.

While there is precedent for MLB teams drafting football-first players out of college -- from Kyler Murray to Russell Wilson to Jeff Samardzija -- the fact that Uiagalelei hasn’t played baseball in college makes his situation a bit different. Still, it’s worth looking at how those three situations played out.

Murray, taken No. 9 overall by the A’s in 2018, opted to return to Oklahoma for his senior season rather than sign, ultimately landing with the Arizona Cardinals as the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft after winning the Heisman Trophy in '18.

Then there’s Wilson, who played second base at N.C. State before signing with the Rockies, who selected him in the fourth round in 2010. He played a couple of seasons in the Minors ahead of going to the NFL, and to this day, Wilson technically remains in affiliated ball, currently in the Yankees’ system (albeit on the restricted list).

In the case of a player actually choosing baseball for good, there’s Samardzija, a two-time All-American wide receiver at Notre Dame, who signed with the Cubs after being taken in the fifth round in 2006. He played 13 years in the Majors for the Cubs, A’s, White Sox and Giants.

As of now, the Dodgers believe that Uiagalelei has the raw skills to be immediately successful at the Minor League level. And should he sign, there’s a chance that fans could be getting their first look at him sooner rather than later.

“I think the plan is to allow him to play [football] this year,” Rosenthal said. “... Try to be successful and try to be as much as [he] can do. And then in the meantime, if it doesn't work out, or if baseball truly becomes [his] passion and love and what [he wants] to do moving forward, I mean, he could be in Spring Training with us by next year.”

In all, the Dodgers concluded their Draft having selected 14 pitchers, five infielders and three outfielders. Fourteen came out of four-year colleges, one from a junior college and seven from high school/prep school.